Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities

Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities

by James Turner


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Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities by James Turner

Many today do not recognize the word, but "philology" was for centuries nearly synonymous with humanistic intellectual life, encompassing not only the study of Greek and Roman literature and the Bible but also all other studies of language and literature, as well as history, culture, art, and more. In short, philology was the queen of the human sciences. How did it become little more than an archaic word?

In Philology, the first history of Western humanistic learning as a connected whole ever published in English, James Turner tells the fascinating, forgotten story of how the study of languages and texts led to the modern humanities and the modern university. The humanities today face a crisis of relevance, if not of meaning and purpose. Understanding their common origins—and what they still share—has never been more urgent.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691168586
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 09/15/2015
Series: The William G. Bowen Series , #88
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 498,681
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

James Turner is the Cavanaugh Professor of Humanities Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, where he taught in the History Department and the doctoral program in history and philosophy of science.

Table of Contents

Prologue ix

Conventions xix

Acknowledgments xxiii


1. "Cloistered Bookworms, Quarreling Endlessly in the Muses' Bird-Cage": From Greek Antiquity to circa 1400 3

2. "A Complete Mastery of Antiquity": Renaissance, Reformation, and Beyond 33

3. "A Voracious and Undistinguishing Appetite": British Philology to the Mid-Eighteenth Century 65

4. "Deep Erudition Ingeniously Applied": Revolutions of the Later Eighteenth Century 91


5. "The Similarity of Structure Which Pervades All Languages": From Philology to Linguistics, 1800-1850 125

6. "Genuinely National Poetry and Prose": Literary Philology and Literary Studies, 1800-1860 147

7. "An Epoch in Historical Science": The Civilized Past, 1800-1850 167

I. Altertumswissenschaft and Classical Studies 168

II. Archaeology 184

III. History 197

8. "Grammatical and Exegetical Tact": Biblical Philology and Its Others, 1800-1860 210


9. "This Newly Opened Mine of Scientific Inquiry": Between History and Nature: Linguistics after 1850 236

10. "Painstaking Research Quite Equal to Mathematical Physics": Literature, 1860-1920 254

11. "No Tendency toward Dilettantism": The Civilized Past after 1850 274

I. ‘Classics' Becomes a Discipline 275

II. History 299

III. Art History 310

12. "The Field Naturalists of Human Nature": Anthropology Congeals into a Discipline, 1840-1910 328

13. "The Highest and Most Engaging of the Manifestations of Human Nature": Biblical Philology and the Rise of Religious Studies after 1860 357

I. The Fate of Biblical Philology 357

II. The Rise of Comparative Religious Studies 368

Epilogue 381

Notes 387

Works Cited 453

Index 509

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Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Reviewingismyforte More than 1 year ago
The fluent and highly accessible way in which James Turner, Cavanaugh Professor of Humanities at the University of Notre Dame, recounts the evolution of the science of philology makes for relatively easy reading, which is especially exceptional when one considers the complexity of the subject matter of this 550-page book. Attention-grabbing from the start, Professor Turner begins his prologue by discussing a highly apposite adage of the leading humanistic scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam, namely: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog [knows] one big thing.” He explains the importance and relevance of the adage to a central issue of this work: whether humanistic scholarship in the West consists of many disciplines, or just one overarching discipline. Clearly, Turner is a dab hand at unpacking multidimensional and intertwined concepts that might otherwise leave the reader floundering in the midst of an academic maze. His competence and ease in exploring a subject to which he has devoted much of his own academic career instils a sense of trust in the reader that this is an expert who is not only on intimate terms with his material, but who is also vitally concerned with conveying his understanding of the matter to his readers, no matter how new they are to the field. While in no way being condescending towards his audience, Turner explains even the most fundamental of ideas and practices in a pragmatic and fulsome way that gives heart and feeling to Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities. Making no undue assumptions as to the pre-existing level of understanding among his audience, he animates and informs all aspects of the evolution of philology, leaving no stone unturned in his portrayal of the history of the discipline, from the time of the ancient Greeks to the modern day. Turner has a delightful sense of humor—he manifests none of the academic stuffiness that is typically associated with the science of philology, and is, in fact, prone to take the mickey out of pedantic claptrap. For instance, he personifies the appearance of philology in academic circles in Northern America and the British Isles as tottering “along with arthritic creakiness. One would not be startled to see its gaunt torso clad in a frock coat.”  The author traces the development of the science from its once “chic” and “dashing” form to its present state of apparent decrepitude with the ease and fluency of a skilled rhetorician who is a master of his art. He shows how, from philology’s once all-embracing encompassment of the study of all language and languages, as well as of all texts, the seeming deterioration of the discipline into its present attenuated state came about through its birthing of the many disciplines that currently comprise not only the humanities, but also the social sciences. By giving rise to a plethora of children, as many parents have done since time immemorial, it can clearly be seen to have sacrificed some of its own integrity so that it could give life to a host of new entities, each strong and growing by leaps and bounds in its own right. In addition to the present volume, Professor Turner has also authored The Liberal Education of Charles Eliot Norton and Religion Enters the Academy, as well as coauthored The Sacred and the Secular University. He is well-known for the depth of his professional insight and for the fluency and accessibility of his writing, of which the present volume is yet another memorable instance.